Some plants and pollinators have unique relationships. Take the rush milkweed.
Most years our rush milkweed plants only produce one or two seed pods each.
This year, however, the plants are covered with seed pods.
To figure out, we need to go back a few weeks. At that time the plants were covered with flowers.
We also saw a lot of tarantula hawk wasps visiting the flowers.
Although they are clumsy giants, tarantula hawks are especially good at pollinating milkweeds. Their long legs slide into the grooves in the flowers, where they collect the sticky sacs of pollen called pollinia (for more information, see BugGuide). When the wasps visit the next flower, the process is reversed, leaving the pollinia behind to pollinate the plant.
This year the tarantula hawk wasps were abundant and now the seed pods are, too, which hopefully means
soon we’ll see more milkweed seeds,
which will glide away on their silky parachutes to make more rush milkweed plants, which are
good for the monarch caterpillars that eat them, and
which turn into monarch butterflies, important pollinators for many other wildflowers.
It went to another plant, then returned. It continued to watch me.
I was surprised it was so timid because the female wasps of this species are armed with a potent sting. At first I thought it might be a male, which wouldn’t have a stinger, but typically the females are the ones with the curled antennae.
It is hard to see at this resolution, but the wasp has a patch of dirt on the side of her thorax. That’s pretty common. The females sting tarantulas or other spiders and drag them into a burrow underground. They often wear dirt.
As for being timid, I guess I’m scarier than a tarantula.
Every once in awhile a high-pitched sound travels through the air and one of these shows up.
If you are brave, get a bit closer.
It’s a tarantula hawk wasp, an important pollinator of milkweeds. You can read more about how they do it in a previous post.
These wasps are big and noisy and clumsy. They seem like flying dinosaurs. You can’t miss them.
Not far away is a quiet little bee that you might easily miss.
Look at that long antenna.
The bees with antennae almost as long or longer than their bodies are commonly called long-horned bees. They are important pollinators of a number of plants, but their legs aren’t long enough to pollinate the specialized milkweed flowers.
Still, they are just some of the many insects that benefit from milkweed flowers.